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Coach Perspectives: Flag, Tackle and Modern Youth Football

By Mike Lemons, 07/09/22, 7:00AM CDT


For a variety of reasons youth football is experiencing a resurgence nationwide, including here in Naperville. With the surge we are seeing players coming over to the Naperville Saints who have played flag football. As a result, players and parents frequently ask us about the transition from flag to tackle, so we have asked someone who knows the game firsthand - Coach Mike Czuba. Mike is a long-time coach and Naperville Saints board member with over 40 years of on-field football experience.

Coach let's start with helping parents understand which skills carryover from flag to tackle football.

There are some common skills from flag to tackle which is great news for kids who have played flag before. In fact, because of the pandemic the Saints had a flag (7x7) program. Here are some similarities with both types, which are great building blocks:

  • Playing at full speed
  • Making evasive maneuvers in the open field
  • Stopping a ball carrier
  • Learning basic pass patterns, coverage techniques and formations

Then what are some differences from flag football?

There are several, the most obvious of which is protective padding.

Padding, from helmets to shoulder pads to pants, are worn because there is (intentional) contact. The difference here is that flag contact is unintentional as players collide in pursuit of a ball carrier, going for a catch, stopping their opponent etc. Programs like ours teach players techniques to prepare for contact, to tackle, block and defend - safely.

Another difference is team size. We have eleven players per side versus the traditional seven players in flag. More players require more teamwork and orchestration for success - which also bonds players closer together. These bonds have immeasurable benefits in life.

On the topic of players, we find that more player types can enjoy the game. For example, bigger kids can specialize in offensive and defensive line positions which those same players may find less rewarding in flag since contact is limited.

Another difference is that flag football places an emphasis on individual scoring. Fast kids with good arms or speedy running backs can really carry a team. In tackle the plays are typically more complex with more players involved. As in high school, college, and the pros we see how teams cannot sustain success with one or two rockstar players. It requires a concerted team effort.

I could keep going on, but I'll close with what your player aspires to do in football. If they want to play in high school, which is tackle, you want them to start playing at a younger age and learn the right way to play. Kids playing flag up to high school often face challenges acclimating to the game. The pace is different, the plays are different, the contact is different, which is why we have heard local high school coaches report back on the success of our Saints at the high school level.

We all want this game to continue to succeed and our best chance at that is giving them the best foundation possible. This is what the modern game is all about.

How is the modern game of football different than in years past?

I think the game has evolved to be an even better sport today. We at the Saints and many coaches are out there doing the right things with the best intentions. We emphasize safer play techniques such as shoulder tackling and keeping the head up.

It's quite a difference from back in the day when helmet-to-helmet contact was encouraged, contact after the whistle was rarely called as a penalty, the list goes on and on. Coaches and youth football organizations have changed their approach because it is safer, more fun for the kids and is just the right thing to do.

In addition to play improvements, we also focus on the spirit of the player. We encourage our players to succeed, work hard as we lift them up, not tear them down. The days of humiliating players, using water breaks as a reward - they have no place in football and we do not tolerate it in our program. We all want to see the game continue to succeed.

-Mike Czuba